Key Topics from NGI Consortium Partners

Hi partners! Let’s use this thread to post our approximately 1 page reflections on the key topics we’ve discovered in each of our research so far, as we just agreed in the taskforce meeting. Just reply to this post to add your own.

For example ours, which we will post soon, will be a summary of our preliminary ethnographic findings. Looking forward to reading your responses!

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Here are Nesta’s ideas, can’t wait to see yours!

Environmental impact of devices: EU citizens replace their smartphones on average every two years, creating 60-80kg CO2 equivalent emissions for each of the 200 million devices purchased annually. 85-95% of the lifetime emissions of a smartphone are created before the device reaches its owner, and many devices are replaced before they are unrepairable because it is difficult and expensive to repair them. The EU could make devices last longer if it required manufacturers to make them easier to repair, provide repair manuals and parts, and extend software updates to five years or more. Increasing the lifetime of each device will have a significant impact on the environmental impact of the internet, and there is space for us to usefully contribute. High-profile efforts to improve the situation are underway, including the Right to Repair campaign, but these changes will require wide-ranging support from innovators, experts, consumers and policymakers. We can provide data, insight and policy ideas that could be useful in helping to create change.

Related: Minimising data storage and transmission: Can we extend the principle of “Data minimisation” as set out in the GDPR to also become an environmental objective? How do we reduce the footprint of data held in data centres, but also of our individual use? Can existing processes like ML, internet search be made greener?

New data governance models: We see a flurry of innovation in the data governance space, with new models like data trusts, data commons and stewardship all gaining more traction (see for example the EC’s Data Governance Act released on 11/11). Moving beyond just regulating the data economy, these new, more equitable and accountable models for owning and sharing data could help democratise access and give citizens more control over what happens to their personal data. In the vision paper, we propose a model combining data commons and self-sovereign identities to create a “decentralised data lake” for trusted solutions to tap into on the terms of the user (tentatively called the ‘European Democratic Data Space’ or ‘EDDS’); it would be particularly interested to study the language around these various models (given there is a lot of muddled language going on there right now - and spot emerging dynamics and communities).

Open-source technology ecosystem: We would like to study which role the European Commission can play in building a strong ecosystem of open technology/open source solutions to compete with dominant centralised actors (move from a protocol to a platform economy). We want to look specifically at how the use of open source can be promoted across layers of governance (city-level up to the Commission itself), how to bring robustness/harness interoperability and portability, and whether there could be interesting models the Commission could use to help ensure maintenance and scaling of funded tools (launching a FOSS fund, or an Open Technology Fund for example).

I imagine this one would be pretty tricky to study from a data point of view, but perhaps we can do some more ethnographic research there or workshops with open source developers/policymakers?

Impact of the internet on democracy: As a particularly fractious US election comes to an end, it is clear we continue to grapple with the impact the internet, and large social media platforms, in particular, are having on our democracies and cohesion of our societies. We need to better understand the underlying black-box nature of the algorithms that govern what we see and read online (and why they tend to, for example, promote harmful conspiracy content) and address the enormous power wielded by just a couple of dominant, unaccountable intermediaries to shape public opinion and direct information flows. Building a more democratic internet also requires levelling the playing field in the digital economy and giving citizens more ownership over the future direction of travel of emerging technologies and fostering collective intelligence (all discussed in much detail in the vision paper).

Impact of the internet on physical/public space: New technologies like facial recognition, AR and constant tracking and surveillance threaten to radically change the ways in which we can interact in the physical space, taking away agency and reciprocity/the ability to consent from citizens. But technology’s impact on our physical spaces goes beyond just serious concerns about privacy: digital technologies are encroaching on our public spaces; exploitative digital labour practices are worsening conditions in the barely-holding-on economy, and dominant internet economy business models extract value from our local economies, while negatively impacting the livability and affordability of our cities/regions. What can policymakers on all levels of governance do to restore the balance?

Runner-up: reconsidering the digital divide post-COVID.

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Edgeryders (written from the perspective of community members’ experiences with these topics):

Online shift’s effect on offline space and sociality

The pandemic has intensified a process that many community members felt was already occurring: a sense of disappearance of work-life separation, mediated by the dissolution of public-private boundaries enabled by the internet (in part due to a sense of technology being “always on” and increased feelings of surveillance at work). New configurations of offline-online work and leisure time, like work-life balance vs work-life integration , have been topics of discussion. Part of the impact of covid-19 has been a shift to online and a corresponding sense of loss: of public space, of social engagement, with mental health impacts. One way of addressing this has been to seek a sense of community by reworking offline spaces to increase social interaction even as work and education increasingly shifts online. These are connected to larger questions about imagining the future and building alternatives: the Next Generation Internet is about more than just online social dynamics, and what we bring to bear on it is this question of what it does to communities, how we make them, and how we imagine other worlds together, through our everyday engagements with internet technology and its impacts.

Work-life balance is diversifying, so workspaces won’t all look the same, and because of the capacities of online communication, we can potentially begin to radically rethink what a workspace is, to make it more conducive for the well-being of more people (especially if we can resist exploitative surveillance tech). We’re also learning about the limits of online communication – fatigue and capacity. Digital policy is still about holistic human experience, so the internet’s effect on public space and its uses are still huge factors in crafting it.

Negotiating Privacy/Personal Data Trade-offs

The crucial subcategory here is the relationship between corporate interest (particularly of “big tech” companies) and public good (part of the profit/power nexus discussed in the report). Key topics here include user agency and control and the trade-off that sets up with user experience: how much effort community members without a high level of technological expertise can or want to to put in to controlling their personal data and deciding what trade-offs are worth it.

There’s an emergent theme of individualising responsibility: that responses to problems that are created by and large by institutions are being proposed on the individual level (e.g. improving your own privacy settings, making decisions about what you’re willing to trade off, becoming more educated about the promises and perils of online behaviour). Removing this onus from the individual is important, but individuals also feel overwhelmed at the power yielded by large corporations and unable to see where they can meaningfully intervene when they want to. But what about the collective responses that aren’t as institutional, like open source projects and citizen education? Are these the areas we might be able to see people effecting change in — bigger than the individual, but not as daunting as trying to change the behaviour of big corporations head-on?

Who owns data is also a key theme here, relating to the issue of data governance and control over personal data. “Defining terminology” is a code often tied to some of the models themselves, which indicates that more clarity is needed when entering buzzword territory around data governance models.

The promises and possible shortcomings of Open Source technology.
Open Source is a hot topic on the platform, discussed by a wide range of community members (from grassroots activists to academics, technologists and beyond). Questions emerge around whether open source solutions can lead to greater empowerment, human-centred design, and imagining other alternatives to the status quo (of “big tech” control).

Follow-ups emerge from this: how accessible are these collective responses (e.g. are open source movements accessible to more than just a small amount of homogenous people in terms of socioeconomic demographics? Do these citizen education projects still serve to shift focus and blame away from big tech/corporations, or do they offer another way forward in terms of collective action?)

Algorithms, AI and Regulation

Content moderation, misinformation, safety, inequality, transparency, and oversight all come up in relationship to artificial intelligence and algorithms. Understanding how community members discern the truth (related to issues of information quality and access) has been a key theme on the platform, and one only growing with both the US election results and increasing regulations around covid-19 and contact tracing. These concepts are also related to smart cities and human rights, as sensing and tracking technologies in smart cities are tied to a question of whether to trust data-gathering government tech or resist these sensing technologies and automated decision-making systems – and if the latter, how to do so.

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Runner up: environmentalism and internet technology

We could possibly still focus on this, since Green New Deal topics are rapidly expanding on platform. The physical waste produced by digital technologies as well as the possibility of online shifts having a positive effect on climate change (lowering emissions and reducing carbon footprints) are topics of discussion.
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Topics from Aarhus University
We have made a selection of topics based on last year’s D1.13, D.1.9 and the insights gathered through this year’s workshop. In order to select only 5 topics, we have looked at the overlap between the 8 NGI goals and the group discussion that came up during the workshop. This year, we had 6 different groups, and the prompt for discussion was to choose an example from the last two years in which human-centered values or democratic principles had been affected. Like this, the discussion was directed but not constrained according to previous results.

From the workshop D1.9

8 selected key topics:

● Trustworthy Information Flows

● Decentralised Power on the Internet

● Personal Data Control

● Sustainable and Climate-friendly Internet

● Safer Online Environments

● An Inclusive Internet

● Competitive European Ecosystems

● Ethical Internet Technology

1. Ethical Internet Technology

Last year, one of the 8 NGI goals arising from the analysis and the workshop was concerned ethical internet technology. This is quite a broad topic that came up again during this year’s workshop, reflected in different subtopics chosen by the different discussion groups (3 out of 6 groups). In particular, groups highlighted areas such as video surveillance, implementation of internet technology, and discrimination resulting from algorithmic decision-making as areas of high priority for the next years. Overall, we can take the motto ‘moving fast and breaking things’ as a reflection of the attitude that needs to be seriously reconsidered. Some of the policies and regulations that were proposed around these areas include correcting the data collection imbalance, increasing the diversity at the higher level of policy making, and including mandatory ethics education in technical studies (i.e., computer scientists, engineers, etc). In addition to focusing on diversity to decrease discrimination bias, special emphasis was placed on the importance of testing decision-making algorithms and setting up requirements for public debates and transparency before implementation.

Challenges discussed in the second workshop within this topic: Video surveillance (for decision-making), Implementing technology without proper discussions and transparency, Descriminating Algorithmic decision-making

Methods: output of workshop D1.14 and workshop D1.9. At workshop D1.14, we split the participants into 6 groups, where each could choose a topic for discussion. 3 of the 6 groups had a topic in this category. The topic was one of 8 selected topics of the workshop D1.9.

We think it is important, because: ethics is the fundament for identifying European values and solving social issues, which is one of the main objectives of the project (objective 2 in the grant agreement part B).

2. An Inclusive Internet

Last year, limited access to the internet was highlighted as one of the problematic areas, referring to half of the population still being offline, and urban areas being better connected than rural. Many disabled people also are excluded from using online information and services, so inclusive infrastructures and tools are needed to remove barriers and create an inclusive and accessible Internet for all. This year we saw this topic resurface in several of the discussions (2 out of 6 groups), in particular referring to the many internet shutdowns carried out by governments to suppress protests or movements in 2020. According to Human Rights Watch, this has occurred in Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan Myanmar and Zimbabwe. Possible solutions suggested during the expert workshop included the development of international legislation and centralising the point of control to the international neutral level.

Challenges discussed in the second workshop within this topic: Unstable and no access to the internet, Shut down of internet by governments to suppress protests or movements.

Methods: output of workshop D1.14 and workshop D1.9. At workshop D1.14, we split the participants into 6 groups, where each could choose a topic for discussion. 2 of the 6 groups had a topic in this category and the topic came up in a third group as well. The topic was one of 8 selected topics of the workshop D1.9.

We think it is important, because: inclusivity is one of the European values mentioned in the grant agreement (Annex 1, p. 4).

3. Trustworthy Information Flows (Democracy, fake news and the internet)

It is widely recognised that trustworthy information flows are essential for healthy democracies, and this year’s covid crisis and the associated infodemic has given us a new perspective of the importance of reliable information. While the spread of disinformation did not arise as one of the preferred topics for discussion among the 6 groups, we asked explicitly about the best strategy to combat misinformation in a quiz to be completed at the individual level. There, the majority of responders chose the option referred to gaining a better understanding of why people share fake news (34.8%), followed by counteracting with accurate information (17.4%) and developing better fake news detection algorithms (8.7%). This further relates to other democracy threats mentioned above, governmental censorship and large-scale content moderation by online platforms.

Challenges discussed in the second workshop within this topic: Shut down of internet by governments to suppress protests or movements

Methods: output of workshop D1.14 and workshop D1.9. At workshop D1.14, we split the participants into 6 groups, where each could choose a topic for discussion. 1 of the 6 groups had a topic in this category. The topic was one of 8 selected topics of the workshop D1.9.

We think it is important, because: trustworthiness is one of the European values mentioned in the grant agreement (Annex 1, p. 4).

4. Decentralised Power on the Internet and personal data control

The internet of today is controlled by a handful of giant companies with virtual monopoly control, acting as gatekeepers by enforcing policies on their users. This is one of the 8 NGI topics from last year which resurfaced in this year’s workshop around recent data leaks. In particular, a leak of governmental health data in Finland, where data had been used to blackmail citizens, was used as an example to illustrate this issue. This ties in with personal data control, and solutions proposed evolved around ideas of more efficient data de-anonymisation, the establishment of a human rights to slow down personal data collection, and more accountability at different levels.

Challenges discussed in the second workshop within this topic: Risk of data leaks.

Methods: output of workshop D1.14 and workshop D1.9. At workshop D1.14, we split the participants into 6 groups, where each could choose a topic for discussion. 1 of the 6 groups had a topic in this category. The topic was one of 8 selected topics of the workshop D1.9.

We think it is important, because: decentralisation and promoting privacy are two of the European values mentioned in the grant agreement (Annex 1, p. 4).

5. Safer Online Environments

Cyberviolence and hate speech was also chosen this year as vital in order to build a safer and more human-centric online environment. For this to happen, a range of issues needs to be taken into consideration, including the role of social media providers and the protection of free expression. At the same time, solutions need to be investigated, such as effective moderation or containment procedures, creating useful aid for victims of cyberviolence and enabling law enforcement to take action against offenders.

Challenges discussed in the second workshop within this topic: How to protect minorities from discrimination and hate speech, and how to provide equal access

Methods: output of workshop D1.14 (?) and workshop D1.9. At workshop D1.14, we split the participants into 6 groups, where each could choose a topic for discussion. 1 of the 6 groups had a topic in this category. The topic was one of 8 selected topics of the workshop D1.9.

We think it is important, because: openness is one of the European values mentioned in the grant agreement (Annex 1, p. 4).

5 Topics from the umbrella issues presented on fwd.delabapps.eu

Trustworthy information
The spread of fake news, misinformation and the decline of trust in reliable sources create a profound challenge for the functioning of democracies and societies. While regulating platforms or implementing advanced topic filtering algorithms are among possible solutions, bringing back trust to written words may be far more complicated.

Privacy

Much has changed for online privacy in recent years. GDPR was a landmark for personal data protection in the EU and beyond, and the debate is now largely about how to regulate online platforms, not whether regulation is required. However, online privacy is not only threatened by the business models of tech giants, but also by applications like Pegasus and other non-transparent practices of foreign and national agencies.

Climate crisis

Climate change remains humanity’s top challenge, with great impact on technological and social development. Besides already available consumer products, emerging technologies such as AI and quantum computing may play a significant role in reducing the harmful effects of global warming. However, the content crisis on social media divides society by popularising fake news. Therefore, Internet services play a greater role in the fight against climate change that is beyond the carbon footprint of using them. Reducing the spread of fake news and propaganda will be key to build a global consensus in the necessity to take more significant steps.

Competition

The digital transformation has a profound impact on the economy. Platformisation changed the market dynamics, facilitating the development of giant companies. Competition policy became highly relevant not only in the case of existing services (e.g. social media), but also for emerging technologies, such as cryptocurrencies or 5G. While the US has been less active in regulating market competition, e.g. in the case of Facebook acquisition of rival Instagram and Whatsapp, the EU is leading the discussion on ensuring competition in the Digital Single Market.

Ethical AI

The fast development of artificial intelligence algorithms and their increased use in facial recognition and autonomous weapons are among the most important identified trends. The use of facial recognition by companies, governments, law enforcement and the military has been in the centre of heated debates. Recent examples, such as Google’s censored search engine developed for the Chinese market (‘Project Dragonfly’), instances of algorithmic bias in criminal cases, racially targeted ads and “differential” pricing, and the use of Facebook data for voter manipulation, all raise serious concerns. Further research is needed in order to develop targeted ethical frameworks for the development and implementation of new technologies.

Other topics: blockchain (less of a social issue), safer online environment (less policy), democracy (related to trustworthy info)